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By Christopher Deliso
The recent arrest of 19 Albanians in Kosovo by KFOR forces would seem to fly in the face of the received wisdom, that the internationals are in Kosovo to protect them. But the as-yet unexplained crackdown could herald the onset of something until now considered impossible: Albanian reprisals against their Western protectors.
Walk down any street in central Pristina, and you will see pictures of Bill Clinton, taxi cabs featuring the Statue of Liberty, and other testimonies to the Albanians’ undying affection for Americans. Yet on the same streets, Albanian national flags dominate, and the statue in the main square is that of a fallen hero- a slain KLA fighter, immortalized in stone, gripping a machine gun in his right hand, ammo belt strung and pistol in his left. As aficionados of the “blowback” scenario (by which American-supported revolutionaries ineluctably turn on them later) already suspect, there may come a day when the love of all things American will be sacrificed in favor of the Albanian national cause.
Tensions have already been raised several times this year. An arrest of celebrated “hero” Daut Haradinaj in late June resulted in massive street protests. Photos of one march showed wild-eyed Albanian men of all ages, en masse under the black and red. Scarcely reassuring for UNMIK administrators trying to convince the world of Kosovo’s democratic and multi-ethnic ideals.
Another case of Albanian unrest is the issue of the Macedonian border. Kosovar Albanians claim that 2000 hectares of it rightfully belong to them, and that the internationally-respected demarcation treaty between Macedonia and Yugoslavia is fraudulent, as it did not consult “the people of Kosovo.”
Serbs in Kosovo, as well as Roma, know full well the effects of virulent Albanian nationalism. A woman in the village of Gracanica, 4 miles from Pristina, spoke of how she could not visit her relatives 2 miles down the road without KFOR protection. She showed photos of 13 family members, all murdered by Albanians, after KFOR took over in 1999. Since then, 110 Orthodox churches have been damaged or destroyed in Kosovo.
Yet the victims are not always Serbs. A Roma family in Gracanica spoke of having lost respectable employment in Pristina- in hospitals and computer companies- after the arrival of the UNMIK administration. Another recent Albanian attack in the village of Klokot, which destroyed several Serbian houses, also wounded 2 American soldiers. Earlier this year, a KFOR soldier was killed when he stepped on an old KLA-planted land mine.
Albanian anger has also erupted by the addition of Macedonian Albanian politician Nevzat Halili to the US government’s terrorist blacklist. This move, which was sudden and not explained, seems to be linked to the announcement of a new militant group, ARI (Army of the Republic of Ilyria), which the Macedonian government has started denouncing with much vigor. Political and media enemies of Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski have claimed that the ARI is a hoax conjured up by Georgievski, who hopes to benefit from it in the September 15 elections.
Media and diplomatic enemies, especially the Institute for War and Peace Reporting and the International Crisis Group, have repeatedly mocked Georgievski and his party, VMRO-DPMNE, intimating that their end is near and that the new Macedonian government will be composed of the Socialist SDSM and, surprisingly, former NLA leader Ali Ahmeti’s new party. In fact, Ahmeti did not deny the existence of ARI, but rather ridiculed its significance. That the US would place the group’s ostensible ringleader Halili on its persona non grata list would also seem to confirm the existence of ARI, since the US is no friend of Georgievski.
The question remains open regarding NATO’s robust new attitude to clamping down in Kosovo. Perhaps it wants to head off the Macedonians at the pass, so to speak, by appearing to be the enforcer- and so, strip Georgievski of having to take the initiative. But NATO has also placed tremendous pressure on the Macedonians of late, demanding that they give up their Russian-made SU-24 fighters as a condition for entering the alliance. So far, Georgievski has refused the ultimatum, as well as a request by NATO for 100 additional troops to “secure” the OSCE election monitors preparing to babysit Macedonian voters come September.
The wild card in all this is the Serbian government, which, insiders say, may join the Macedonians in a clampdown on Albanian extremism, in Yugoslav territory where they are still allowed to go- Presevo. While there have been no indications from Belgrade, this would not be too surprising. And perhaps NATO- which has never let vocation get in the way of cowardice- would prefer to leave the dirty work, and the enmity it would surely incur among Albanians, to the Serbs and Macedonians.
Such deference would have its benefits. It would help the alliance both to maintain its “peacekeeper” image, and allow it to stay out of direct confrontation with the Kosovar Albanians- an eventuality that grows more likely with every passing day that the Albanians are denied their dreams of annexing Macedonian territory, as well as leaving Serbia behind forever. You can bet that the day the internationals leave, and an “independent” Kosovo is established, not only the remaining Orthodox churches, but also the snapshots of Bubba Clinton, will be torn down. For at the end of the day, the Albanian love of America was merely a means to an end. And denying that end could prove ugly, should the Albanians of Kosovo start to feel more thwarted than they already do.